Sometimes modern comics have trouble capturing the simple, earnest feeling of high adventure that was a regular fixture of earlier eras. The 1980s saw comics embrace greater complexity and today’s comics have embraced ongoing character continuity similar to television. But one area which modern comics has difficulty embracing is how much fun a kind of silly and openly pulpy adventure can be. Flash Gordon – Kings Cross #1 has no such difficulty. And while the result is not the most challenging or innovative issue you’re ever going to read, it is a ton of fun and I’m not sure it’s aiming to be any more than that.
The issue opens in the aftermath of the last Flash Gordon crossover Dynamite published. Ming the Merciless’ previous invasion was defeated by Flash Gordon and his allies, Mandrake the Magician and the Phantom, but the Emperor of the planet Mongo unleashed an electromagnetic weapon that set Earth’s technology back to an earlier era. The issue opens as the Phantom and Mandrake uncover a mystery that bodes ill for the people of Earth. Teaming up with Flash, Dale Arden and Dr. Zarkoff, the team find themselves under a familiar threat that may prove insurmountable this time.
Writer Jeff Parker crafts a script that sees our heroes deal with various threats, allowing the Phantom leave his mark on a creep’s face, Mandrake be generally weird and mystical, and emphasizes Flash’s grinning sense of derring do. There are ruthless space invaders, heartless thugs, a wisecracking scientist and giant monsters. The brilliant idea of Earth being set back a few decades, technologically speaking, results in making a world where these heroes, so evocative of the 1930s, no longer feel outdated. There’s something so fresh and vital about seeing characters that aren’t burdened by attempts to inject complexity or nuance. I’m not implying I want every comic to be like this, but the approach here works really well with the cast of characters, who engender a warmth even as they are kind of intrinsically old-fashioned. You can either alter the characters to fit the modern world, or alter the modern world to fit the characters, and Flash Gordon – Kings Cross #1 goes with the latter, and bolder, option.
Jesse Hamm‘s artwork, therefore, fits the issue perfectly. It’s deliberately evocative of an older, more basic style that fits the material. But it would be a mistake to call Hamm’s work simple nostalgia. The issue feels contemporary, particularly in his use of shadow and atmosphere. But he emphasizes a two-fisted, straight-forward approach that doesn’t feel miles away from the characters’ pulpy roots. One thing I really loved was Hamm’s clever use of sound effects, a technique that isn’t used anywhere near as much as it should be anymore. Hamm makes them effective and exciting, but also cheekily hilarious, such as a moment when Flash kicks a combatant and the sound effect is “boot!” That’s great. He also has a great full page piece in the issue that shows a grinning Flash wading into a fistfight with bad guys as Dr. Zarkoff knocks back a shot of scotch. It’s a great piece of art that capture the tone of the book perfectly; fun and derring-do.
Flash Gordon – Kings Cross #1 isn’t going to smash convention or break any molds, but it is a lot of fun, and even if it isn’t the most original issue you’ll read this year, it is one that could bring a goofy smile to your face. It’s self-aware and deliberate in its aims, and those aims are to give you an old fashioned adventure in the pulp tradition, and that’s no bad thing. 7.5/10
Flash Gordon – Kings Cross #1 will be released Nov. 2, 2016